From bread mould to penicillin, fungi are an integral part of our world. Although it might not be obvious, fungi are all around us. The Fungal kingdom is so big that in 2017 estimates suggest that there may be between 2.2 million to 3.8 million species in existence. What makes Fungi truly amazing is its diverse range of shapes, sizes, and colours. Fungi range from the microscopic to giant organisms. The Honey fungus is the biggest recorded homogeneous organism with genetically identical cells. It measures a gigantic 3.8 km in diameter! BBC Earth has a lovely article explaining more about this amazing phenomena.

Many fungi live in close relationship with animals, orchids and even other fungi. This role can be either be symbiotic or parasitic. Fungi play an integral role in breaking down organic matter. This helps to distribute nutrients in the environment. Thanks to fungi called yeast we can enjoy our favourite drinks such as beer and what would sushi would be without Soy sauce?

A culinary delight

The parts of Fungi that we are most familiar with, are their fruiting bodies or as we know them, mushrooms. In the past decade, an estimated 3.4 million tons of mushrooms have been cultivated for culinary consumption. In addition, there is no sign that this demand is slowing down. Ranging from the common button mushrooms to rare and pricey truffles, mushrooms have ingrained themselves in our culinary heritage.

Mushrooms: every which way

Those that have been lucky enough to taste truffle claim that it is a singular experience. Truffles have baffled our minds since antiquity; with Plutarch even thinking that they were caused by lightning. The French started cultivating truffles commercially in the early 19th century armed with a better understanding of how Truffles grow. The secret lies in their symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain trees such as Oak and Hazel. In South Africa, there are attempts to establish ‘Truffle orchards’ in the Western Cape as the climate suits them perfectly.

Be cautious when harvesting wild mushrooms

There is a saying amongst mushroom hunters “You get two different kinds of mushroom hunters, brave or alive”. If you cannot identify them 100%, rather let them be. Luckily, for mushroom lovers, there is a way to grow your own mushrooms at home. Lately, mushroom kits have become widely available. Here at Hecker’s, we stock tasty oyster mushroom kits. Have a look at how easy it is to grow your own tasty Oyster mushrooms.

Fungi in the Garden

Some fungi can cause great damage to crops and plants if left unchecked. Fungal outbreaks in the garden are mainly associated with rainy weather. Cooler weather at night coupled with moisture and higher humidity provide the perfect conditions for fungal outbreaks. Some of the more common fungal diseases include:

Controlling fungal outbreaks in the garden

Controlling fungal outbreaks is more about preventing the ideal conditions for fungal outbreaks than anything else. There is a variety of fungicides that one can spray but bear in mind that spraying for fungal diseases is more preventative than curative. Natural options include Coppercount and Margaret Roberts’ Organic Fungicide. Chemical options include Chronos, Funginex and Orius. However, remember to observe waiting periods for edibles when using fungicides. Here are some tips that will help you control fungal outbreaks:

Fungi can play havoc in the garden

So the next time you stumble on a weird mushroom or take a sip from a cold craft beer, you will have a better appreciation for one of nature’s more unusual miracles.

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